Hajia Monsura Asabi Lawal, a graduate of Accounting from University of Baltimore, United States, is a US-based Nigerian insurance agent. Since she relocated to the US in 1986, the soft-spoken woman has not lost contact with Nigeria. She is also sociable and loves to savour her leisure moment with choice music. In this interview by TUNDE BUSARI, she tells her success story. Excerpts:
HOW would you describe your upbringing as regards your relationship with your parents?
I was very close to my mother and father. When I was a child, the only person that I allowed to touch my food was my mother. When I left my mother to travel with my father at a tender age of five, it was a big shock to my siblings, who did not believe I could survive without my mother. That tells you how much love I had for my father as well. My father was born into the royal family of Mayeloye compound Ejigbo. My mother was one of the grandchildren of Bisiriyu Giwa of Abeokuta, and her father hailed from the Afilaka family in Ilesha. I was told that since my father used to work for a European businessman, it was easier for him to embrace Western ideas, including his perspective on Western education. In 1949, he went on holy pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina with his wife and three-month-old son (Hajj Muda). In 1956, he bought his first car. Living in Osogbo at that time, I remember the kind of respect people accorded my mother, the first woman that went to Hajj in the Osun area. Growing up at our family house in Osogbo was very memorable; I felt we were privileged. My father was friends with some influential people in society (Late Alhaji Onilewura and Alhaji Eko). As we were one of the few families that had a phone in the house, our neighbours often came to our house to receive phone calls.
Which school(s) did you attend, and what was your experience as a pupil?
I started my primary school education at S. B. Lawal International Group of Schools in Adjame, Abidjan. I later transferred to Nawairu-deen Primary School, Gbonmi, Osogbo. I attended Baptist High School, Ejigbo. There, I was very fortunate to have two amazing teachers, Mr. Wole Abijo and Mr. Bashir Olawale, their keen interest in my success shaped my personal and professional life today. I obtained my Ordinary National Diploma in Banking at the College of Science and Technology Isolo (COSTECH). In 1986, I travelled to the USA and obtained a Bachelor of Science in Accounting from the University of Baltimore and ultimately became a Certified Public Accountant (CPA).
When did you join the working population and where?
My first job was as an intern with International Bank for West Africa (IBWA), Lagos branch, and Ilupeju branch in 1985. I resigned from my position the following year to travel to the US.
You have a strong bond with Cote d’ Ivoire. Can you recollect your time in that French-speaking country?
My father was a distributor with UAC and John Holt, and he owned a gas station. He was also an Islamic scholar who was very instrumental in bringing the Nawairu-deen Society to Osogbo and surrounding areas of Osun State, where he became the first missioner and first Imam of Nawairu-deen Central Mosque Osogbo. After the political upheaval in the First Republic, he relocated to Ivory Coast in 1964. Where he started an Islamic congregation and later established the first Islamic and elementary school in Adjame, Abidjan. Today it is known as S. B. Lawal International Group of Schools. Growing up around a culture different from my own was interesting. Because of my personality, I was able to make friends easily. One of the things I am most proud of while in Ivory Coast was finishing my Qur’anic studies by the age of nine. I knew I had made my dad proud. I remember he would boast to others, “my daughter has finished the Qur’an!”
When, how, and why did you relocate to the US?
I had opportunity to travel with big daddy (Latif Lawal) to the US to further my education, with the hope of returning to Nigeria after four years, to continue my career in banking.
What were your early experiences in the states?
Just like any other student that came to the US in the 80’s without a government scholarship, I paid for my college education. I was working as a waitress; I would go to school Monday through Friday and work Friday through Sunday. I had no social life. I considered myself lucky to have the late Mrs. Laverne Rawlings Lawal in my life at the time. I considered her to be my guardian angel.
What is the size of your family in the US?
I am married and blessed with two wonderful children.
Which profession are you into, and what is your current designation?
After leaving my position as a Financial Controller at a healthcare company, I am now an Exclusive Insurance Agent. I help families protect their most valuable assets so that they can leave a legacy behind for their children. I also offer investment consultation.
Can you admit you are fashionable?
I like to wear clothes that suit me, not necessarily what is traditional. I find it interesting that something that I wear, that fits and looks good on me, might not look the same on another person and vice-versa. So, I try to pick my own clothing and accessories carefully. If that makes me fashionable, then so be it!
What does your social life look like?
I enjoy socialising because I like meeting new people and conversing with them. I enjoy attending engagement parties.
Which type of music easily gets you moving?
I can never get tired of listening to Barrister! It does something to my brain that’s unexplainable. It is very therapeutic. The same thing happens when I listen to the late and great Whitney Houston. I wept when they died, but they live on because of their music. As a matter of fact, I felt compelled to propagate Barrister’s legacy. I was fortunate to have met some kind-hearted fans of his, who joined me in establishing a group Sikiru Ayinde Barrister Global Fans Foundation (SABGFF). We believe that one of the best ways to carry on Barrister’s legacy is through charity. We organise annual concert to raise funds for orphans and the less fortunate in Nigeria.
Can you compare governance in Nigeria with that of the states?
The two are simply incomparable. In Nigeria, there is no accountability. Corruption is at its peak. The presence of impunity, recklessness, and greed are at an all-time high. All these call for a strong reform that must start from within.
Can you expatiate on this?
I would like to see a government that puts its people first; one that cares about providing basic infrastructural facilities for its citizens, along with affordable healthcare and safety. Additionally, I strongly believe it would be highly beneficial for the Nigerian government to place firmer regulations on imported products, specifically from China. I still believe in one Nigeria. Because I believe in one Nigeria, I will always advocate for good governance which will impact positively on the masses of the country. Nigerian leaders should fear God in the way they treat the masses; they should always think of the future. They should have a foresight and understand that only God knows tomorrow. Who says, they will be around to enjoy all the wealth they are sitting on? I expect them to have picked some lessons from the COVID-19 as regards the fear it has sent to the whole world. Nigeria is a great country but Nigerian leaders must work purposefully and with sincerity to attain that height.
What can you remember during your childhood years?
We had a gramophone in the house that we only played during the Eid’s. My favourite part was rewinding the player. While I was in Abidjan, the only opportunity to listen to music was once every two years, at one of my siblings’ naming ceremonies. They would always play the same Haruna Ishola music. It was the year 1977, while I assisted my mother at her provision shop at Station Road, Osogbo that the record store next to her shop was playing an album that caught my attention. The lyrics were “Ejeka Ayindegbaye O, Eje Ka’yindegbaye, ko se yin, Sikirutenwiose yin….”The record store would play it so many times. The more I listened to it, the more I would feel sorry for the singer, with the thought of how I could help him out of his predicament. Why were they after him? He was an orphan as he pleaded, that he only has a mother who had suffered to raise him! By the time I went to the boarding school that year, I had memorised the entire album. I often thought about the singer’s situation and still felt sorry. When I came home on holiday, I would always want to listen to his albums. I was also fascinated by how he could recite Qur’an verses while singing. Because of this, I became his number one fan for life!
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